BENGALURU: Nearly one person dies of tubercolosis every two minutes in India, said Professor Jaykumar Menon, the award-winning international human rights lawyer and social entrepreneur. Professor Jaykumar began the Open Source Pharma Foundation, which looks at generating breakthroughs in affordable public healthcare; the initiative has drawn over $110 million in funding the likes of Tata Trusts, Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and the Soros Foundations. Speaking at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bengaluru, Menon said, "We are working on complex issues that affect Indian and global society. Our first target, therefore, is Mycobacterium tubercolosis, which inhabits approximately a quarter of the human population in India."
The problem, he says, may run deeper than the prevalence of tubercolosis. According to the World Health Organisation, India is amongst a handful of countries that follow the 90/10 rule. Only 10% of R&D funding is spent on TB, which comprises 90% of the global burden of disease. "India has a high number of cases, but this is a global issue. Our idea is to create a new generation model." The open source model uses crowdsourcing and collaboration to create intellectual property that can be accessed by anyone. Wikipedia, he explains, is an example of this.
The cost of generics is on the rise and Menon stresses the importance of more targeted care. "A lot of people cannot afford the newer drugs in the market," he remarks. "We have a group of people from multiple sectors, software, technology and drug pipelines to work together on neglected diseases."
Speaking to Deccan Chronicle, he says, "In the pharma industry, the logic is to produce generic drugs which don't require the payment of an intellectual property fee. We are just like a Linux for computers. We have made drugs that are instantly generic, therefore affordable. It's a radical model, yes. We're focussing on TB at the moment but the principle will apply to all diseases."
Governments are spending huge amounts to work towards this, so why not make products open and affordable, Menon asks, adding, "We're in the early stages, but we may start clinic trials by 2019."
Menon’s open source innovation has drawn over $120m in funding
Jaykumar Menon is an award-winning international human rights lawyer and social entrepreneur. A former Professor at McGill University, Professor Jaykumar is also the founder of the Open Source Pharma Foundation, an initiative that looks at the open source model to bring about breakthroughs in affordable, quality public healthcare. The initiative has attracted $120 million in funding.
In the early days of his career, Menon represented student leaders of Tiananmen Square, helped the victims of the Bosnian genocide win a whopping $4 billion dollar lawsuit and has helped free a man from Indiana's death row. He was also the 15th lawyer to represent a man wrongfully convicted of murder in New York and the one to finally bring him his acquittal.
He is also a founder of the India Nutrition Initiative, developing salt double-fortified with iron and iodine to address the world's most widespread form of malnutrition.
Menon is currently a research fellow at the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He holds a JD and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University and completed a BA and one year of medical school at Brown. He was recently awarded the Brown University alumni association's highest honor, for living a life of "usefulness and reputation."